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Biology Inspires Technology

Solar cells inspired by butterfly wings

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From fully degradable bioplastics derived from shrimp shells, to tiny RoboBees programmed for pollination, biologically inspired technologies use principles found in nature to create solutions. These advancements represent a remarkable fusion of life sciences and engineering. And solar panels may be the next technology to benefit from biological enhancement.

While thin-film solar cells are considered highly effective, they have also been limited by a variety of factors, including their inability to absorb all available light. Butterfly wings have recently provided light absorption insight that has helped researchers make critical improvements in solar cell design.

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The wings of the butterfly, Pachliopta aristolochiae, are black and covered by micro- and nanostructured scales that harvest sunlight. The wings also have tiny holes about 300 nanometers in diameter. The density and disordered placement of the holes influence the light absorption properties of scales across the wing.

Dr. Radwanul Siddique of California Institute of Technology and his team observed that the scales on the butterfly’s wings are optimally shaped to trap sunlight across the full spectrum. The team also found that nanoscale irregularities in a pattern of controlled disorder can improve solar cell efficiency. Additional studies have indicated that solar cell structures with a controlled level of disorder absorb light more efficiently than those with a regular pattern and random texturing.

The researchers, therefore, examined the butterfly wing’s nanostructures and set out to replicate them in solar cells. They designed thin photovoltaic absorbers with disordered nanoholes. “The nanopatterned absorbers achieve a relative integrated absorption increase of 90% at a normal incident angle of light to as high as 200% at large incident angles, demonstrating the potential of black butterfly structures for light-harvesting purposes in thin-film solar cells,” the team reported.

What are your thoughts? In what ways do you think that this nanoscale solar advancement may affect the industry? DE_bug_web

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  1. If this pans out, this will really propel Solar to a whole new level. With a large improvement in efficiency, this could very well cut in half the number of panels, space and price of a Solar PV System along with Battery Storage. A Real Game Changer!

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